Jennings Beckwith Retrospect

I’m posting these as they are but please know that they are one writer’s interruption of events. Ug. Jennings Beckwith was said to have renounced his title during the revolution, so all of the “sir” and “baronet” stuff makes me cringe almost as much as his “romantic adventures.” Do believe that a woman with similar proclivities would not have been remembered so fondly by history. “No wife to mourn him” — we have absolutely no idea where the mother of James Pierson Beckwith/Beckwourth and siblings was at this time but do know that Jennings lived with her as his wife. The second article talks about the plight of a attractive young women being held in slavery. It says that “…girl captives were sold to wealthy elderly men, but the custom in no case compelled the young things to marry their proprietors.” Well, true. The custom was not to marry at all, but to imply that these girls weren’t used in whatever manner the master wanted is false to the core.

Anyway, take it for the interesting story that it is. I’m sure there is some truth mixed in.


Altoona Tribune (Altoona, Pennsylvania)
4 Apr 1947, Friday
Page 6

This Morning’s Comment
By Henry W. Shoemaker


AN old time Philadelphia newspaper says:

“LEATHER Stocking–died, at Mount Airy, Richmond county, Virginia, Nov. 13, 1835, Sir Jennings Beckwith, Bart., son of Sir Jonathan Beckwith, Bart., and grandson of Sir Marmaduke Beckwith, Bart,m aged 72 years. Sir Jennings was the “leather stocking” of the Northern Neck. Much of his life was spent wandering on the frontiers of Virginia and Pennsylvania and in the far west, on hunting excursions with the Indians. Of late years he would live with such as would fish with him in summer, fox-hunt in winter. Within the last 12 months he has slept on the river shore in the sturgeon season, and been in at the death or search of sport. He had insuperable objections to spending time profitably. Consequently he lived and died a poor man.

“NO wife mourns him, as far as is known, but he had figured in one way or another in at least a score of romantic adventures, or a chivalrous, and all creditable to the fair sex. He was one of those who came upon a poor pioneer girl who had been captured by Indians, stripped and tied to a tree by her wrists and ankles with buffalo tugs while her captors tortured her by throwing sharp knives to see how close they could come without hitting her. As her face was towards the tree, she could not know when the weapons were launched, until she heard their ‘whirr’ and noted them imbed themselves in the bark, within a fraction of an inch of her palpitating flash. Sir Jennings shot a couple of the red fiends, cut her bands, and threw his hunting cloak about her. It was an affecting episode, and by the practices of chivalry, he felt he should marry the beautiful young person, but the life of a knight errant makes poor husband material, and he left her to become the joy of a more stable individual.

“AT Redstone, now Brownsville, Fayette county, Pennsylvania, Sir Jennings arrived shortly after Mrs. George Kincaid, a young pioneer widow had been brought to the nearby Indian village, soon after her husband had been murdered by the redskins. Her hand in marriage was sought by a tottering, toothless old chief, but she indignantly refused to become the spouse of such a bag of dried gristle, and he threatened he would burn her in various parts of her body until she accepted him. Sir Jennings cuffed the old wreck about a little, and put him in his place. Later Paul Lesh, a French Canadian trapper, approached the kindly baronet and asked him if he could secure Mrs. Kincaid as his wife. He would adopt the four little ones, and take all to Three Rivers in Quebec where he was well to do. Sir Jennings introduced the couple, and as she liked the young Frenchman’s looks, they were married by the missionary of the Brethren (Dunkard) church and guarded by the nobleman and his aides, started for the north.”

“SOMETIMES Sir Jennings was not so successful as a peacemaker and matchmaker,” says an authority on his career. “In one of the fierce raids around Martinsburg, W. Va., a girl was taken to Canada by the Indians, and offered for sale; there were several would-be buyers but the lovely captive preferred a young French trader, named Georges Plata and her Indian foster relatives allowed her to make her choice, which of course fell on the handsome Frank. The money was paid over, but she stipulated she would not marry him because of difference in religion until she had asked her parents’ consent. The young lover was so enamored he agreed to go with her to her parents’ home, finding them on Piney Run, just south of the Pennsylvania line, in Maryland. On the long journey, climbing  mountains, carrying her in his arms across swift rivers, storms stayed in caves, cooking and eating together, the girl’s passion overflowed, and she felt this would be the one and only love of her life. Arrived at the cabin on Piney, things were different. The religious element was not insuperable, as Conewago Chapel was not far away, and they had many friends in the beautiful Schlegel valley, but the family disliked all Frenchmen, as ‘allies of the blood-thirsty Indians, and said they wished Col. G. Washington had to the mall as he had to the Sieur Jumonville; Duquesne, even though he was a Huguenot, suited them no better, although they were of the same persuasion, Huguenot refugees, from the Palatinate. They were rude to the ‘voyageur’ and ordered him to be gone, but the girl forgetting her filial responsibilities, decided to slope with her adorer during the night, on two of her parents’ horses. Her loss was discovered before daylight, and a chase was begun, overtaking the couple on Swift Run, close to Hunterstown, in Strabane township, now in Adams county, Pennsylvania. Sir Jennings Beckwith, friend of the afflicted and downtrodden, was seated on the Dutch porch of the Hunterstown inn, famous for its huge timbers and supports, now the Taughinbaugh residence, waiting for the dinner bell, when he noted a commotion down the road. Striding there with all the lofty dignity of Don Quixote, he found the girl’s family trying to tie the struggling beauty across her pony’s back, and some of her brothers cudgelling the unfortunate bleeding scalp of the courier de bois. The very presence of Sir Jennings commanded respect, and with his rapier he cut the sweet girl loose, and placed her properly upright in her deep saddle. He drove off the angry Dutch boys, and tried to adjust matters, but they were too ‘dumb Dutch,’ and hard as set lime plaster.

“THE baronet, resolved to make the best of matters, brought them all to the inn to feast on the wild turkey he had shot earlier in the morning, and close the differences by the old folks re-purchasing their daughter from Plata. When the voyageur saw it was hopeless, with such stubborn people he accepted the sum, with many tears, and protestations, and after the dinner, said a courtly ‘Adieu’ all around, mounted his Canadian chunk, and departed for the north. Sir Jennings was disappointed, but decided to escort the family home to near Taneytown, lest they scourge the girl, now she was in their power again, and saw to it she was treated with respect. Sir Jennings never lost interest in her, and when she married one of the wealthy McClary boys, was a conspicuous guest at the wedding feast, and addressed by the lovely bride as ‘Uncle.’”

ACCORDING to Kerchevla’s great history of the settlement of the valley of Virginia, her married life was tranquil and she raised a splendid family at Morgantown, W. Va. As to the unhappy voyageur, history apparently says more of him. At the proper time, it can be told. “There is nothing new under the sun.”

THE compiler and wife saw the Clifford family of knife-throwers do the same act as Sir Jennings let himself in on, 150 years later in the garden of the ancient hotel at Steinsville, Lehigh county, in June, 1914, only the pretty Maria Clifford was not disrobed but wore an Annie Oakley outfit.

NO doubt “Os” with his memory “wax to receive, marble to retain,” can describe many such knife-throwing acts in old time altoona playhouses like Harry Davis’ famous “Eden Musee.”




Altoona Tribune (Altoona, Pennsylvania)
5 Apr 1947, Saturday
Page 6

By Henry W. Shoemaker


SOME day a biographer will pick up the shein and prepare a full size story of the life of Sir Jennings Beckwith, Bart., mighty hunter who ranked with Ellison, Lybrook and Meshach Browning, as nimrods of the Virginia, Maryland and southern Pennsylvania big game fields which make Col. T. Roosevelt’s ‘African Trails,” tamer by comparison.

YET, it was as a feudal knight that Sir Jennings is best remembered. An unpublished account has him journeying to Philadelphia to secure the abolition of the ducking stool, about which the old Franklin Repository, November 16, 1824, has to say:
“SOMETHING new in Pennsylvania–A woman by the name of Nancy James was indicted at Philadelphia, for being a common scold, tried and found guilty. She was sentenced to be placed in a Ducking Stool and plunged into the water. The sentence was to be executed on Wednesday last. This punishment for scolding women is rare in our state but, as it is getting into fashion, we would advise those of the ‘gentler sex’ who have a propensity to ‘war in words’ to be cautious, lest they too go beyond the latitude allowed to females in the kitchen. Punishment was not carried out, as it seemed to her attorneys more dignified for her to accept a whipping which was administered in the work house at Clockley, by the cooks with their pot sticks, than to be ducked publically by the Schuylkill’s shore.

“NANCY limped after the punishment, as she left the work house, accompanied by her husband, and legal aides, and entered a hackney coach to drive back to her home on Currant Alley, Philadelphia.”

IT is said that “Doughty Deeds” having read of the case, came to Philadelphia and addressed the mayor and aldermen, with the result that the ducking stool was abolished, much to the regret of women who mind their own business, and resented “back yard shrews.” Nancy James was never in trouble again, though folks nudged one another when her comely, trim figure, basket on her arm, passed them on markets, as “the girl who exchanged a whipping for a ducking.”

“DOUGHTY Deeds once traveled to Detroit to try and secure the freedom of Polly Moore, stolen by Indians near the Potomac headwaters and sold to a Tory named Abe Stogwell, who abused her shamefully. Sir Jennings could not command the price her cruel “lord and master” named, but by threatening to have him prosecuted as an English sympathizer, compelled him to treat his lovely young chattel more respectfully.

[Jess: There is something more here. There is SO MUCH more to this story and I need to find it. Somebody doesn’t just drop by Detroit because an old dude is being mean to their slave.]

IN those days the flower of Pennsylvanian and Virginia girl captives were sold to wealthy elderly men, but the custom in no case compelled the young things to marry their proprietors. Often fine young men fell in love with these unhappy girls and if able bought them at an advanced price from the old men, and married them. Old Stogwell was not one of these, and raised his price for Polly, every time a new admirer came along. Polly, is is said, hoped that the baronet would want her for himself, and could “put the blocks” on Stogwell, but he told her he had eased her burdens, and to send for him if Ave got ‘tough’ again. Fate handled her case in another way, as the old man paid his debt to nature, and she soon became the wife of a prosperous French fur buyer.

BORN two years prior to Braddocks’ war, Sir Jennings Beckwith, Bart., took part in some of the last buffalo hunts in southwestern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. Kercheval, in his almost contemporaneous history of the Valley of Virginia published in 1833, saying that by 1772, buffaloes had become scarce in the Old Dominion, while Rev. Trempi tells of a herd of bison driven from Somerset county the same year. Other game was plentiful for a century afterwards, but the bison being unwieldy brutes were soon run down.

A NOTED Chambersburg sportsman recounts in the Franklin Repository of May 21, 1833, a thrilling account of the wild pigeons, in which he says: “I have witnessed the migration of the wild pigeons in Pennsylvania. I have also seen the roosts left by them. When they have frequented one place for some time it is a scene of desolation. The tender grass and underwood is destroyed, the surface is strewn with large limbs of trees broken down by the weight of the birds, and the trees themselves killed as completely as if girdled with an axe. When these roosts are first discovered the people for miles around visit them in the night, with guns, clubs, pots of sulphur and various other instruments of destruction. In a few hours they fill many sacks with dead birds and load their horses with them.

“I visited the remains of a breeding place in western Pennsylvania. About 1 o’clock the pigeons began to return to their nests in great numbers. They were flying with great steadiness and rapidity at a height beyond gunshot. It took two hours for this immense flock to fly over one spot. The noise was so great that it terrified my horse and it was difficult to hear the sound of one’s own voice.”

KERCHEVAL says that game of various kinds kept the settlers from starving, and no doubt the squabs of the wild pigeon were considered choice morsels by the hungry pioneers.

It was a peculiar situation which preserved the bison for a time. If they crossed the state line into Pennsylvania, the nimrods of Penn’s woods resented these “long knives” or “outlanders” following and killing them. It is probable that the bison herd in 1772, described by Rev. Trempi as being driven from Somerset county in Maryland, was the work of southern hunters, so could be killed there without interference.

DR. TREMPI describes these as “probably the last bison herd seen in Somerset county. Yet the last bison in “frosty Somerset” was not killed until after 1810, when John Yutsey, alias “Gipsy John,” the famous Bessarabian pioneer, shot a giant bull in the “glades.”

IN western Virginia (now West Virginia) they hung on until 1825, when several bison were killed on Tygart river. When Sir Jennings stooped to give his first bison, a yearling bull what he called the “coup de grace,” it sought to rise, hooking him under his arm with its sharp horn, and throwing him high in the air, as it got up. Lucky baronet, as, if the brute had gone done with him, he would have been crushed to a pulp.

AN old timer in Colorado told the compiler about the late Dr. J. H. Kalbfus–Pennsylvania’s good grey game protector,” who he called “Antelope Joe.” When Kalbfus, a slim beardless youth, first came to the big game field of the west he got hooked the same way in trying to cut the throat of a wounded antelope, the only difference being that in trying to rise, it was not powerful enough to toss the young gunner, but its horn came out of its socket still imbedded in in Kalbfus’ sinews. For a long time Kalbfus’ arm was stiff, but he recovered and shot so many antelopes for the homesteaders on prairie schooners crossing the plains that he became the “Buffalo Bill” of antelope killers, and was known throughout the Rocky mountain states as “Antelope Joe.” Prior to going west young Kalbfus had some prowess as a wolf and bear slayer, along Shreader run. Bradford county, and in northern Lycoming county when only a boy in his teens.

The Obituary of an Eigth Year-old

I have long been curious about where our family picked up the first name Laurens. This was the name of my grandfather, often confused for Laurence, and seeming to harken back to some proud long ago heritage.

Aware of the famous South Carolina Laurens family, I have search for a connection, but nowhere have I found our people to have crossed paths. They were prominent in The Palmetto State during the American Revolution while the Beckwith family was largely still in Virginia. Nowhere have I found the Laurens family mingling with any other Beckwith or associated family lines.

Any hint of the name Laurens though has always been a sure way to make sure I compulsively poke my head into every possible rabbit hole of available records. This is how I found myself ordering a copy of an obituary from Wofford College indexed on their website under an interesting name. Beckwith, Laurens H. 5/30/1907.Gravestone Beckwith

I knew that Laurence Ranson Beckwith, namesake of his grandfather and son to Laurence Henry Beckwith (my great grandfather’s brother), had died as a child in 1907. I’d seen his grave marker in the Prospect Cemetery on the Jamison side of Orangeburg, South Carolina. I’d raced there in a rental car one evening after I had finished at the South Caroliniana, fighting some surprisingly thick traffic through Columbia to find myself suddenly standing alone at dusk in an old graveyard full of familiar names.

So I knew about Laurence. I knew about his father Laurence. I know about his grandfather, who went by “L. R” but had, during his time in the Confederacy, clearly signed his name as Laurence more than once.

The obituary arrived.

BECKWITH. — Laurens Ranson, third child and oldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Laurens H. Beckwith, was born April 9, 1898, and died February 14, 1907. For one so young, he was a bright light in the home circle, very bright in intellect, gentle, and kind. How his willing hands are missed. He has left this blighted land where flowers so quickly fade, for the one where they constantly bloom. How soon his little soul was wafted above on angel’s wings far from earth to his God, where he sits and sings with that little band. How dear father missed his footsteps following him. He was sick but a short while, falling victim to that dreaded disease whooping cough. While he is not here with father, mother, sisters, and brother, his dear spirit shadows them. Dear father and mother, while your hearts are crushed and bleeding, you know where to find our dear boy. The Lord says, Suffer little children to come unto Me of such is the kingdom of heaven.


1SG L. R. Beckwith's 1864 requisition of horses. Interesting signature.
1SG L. R. Beckwith’s 1864 requisition of horses. Interesting signature.

Okay, first of all, I’d like to take a moment to thank anyone who ever had anything to do with the development of childhood vaccinations. Next… what? The obituary writer is a family member herself, taking great pains to elegantly describe the pain and glory of the little boy’s passing, so it seems unlikely that this is a matter of a misspelling. Did the grandfather, the L. R. Beckwith who signed as Laurence at one point in his life, come up with Laurens? Was it the boy’s father, Laurence Henry, who decided that he wanted to be Laurens Henry?

What I do know is that my grandfather was not the original Laurens and that’s where I will leave it for now, stalled again but a little closer to an answer.


After writing this post, some dear Find a Grave volunteer photographed the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Cemetery, including the grave of Laurens Ranson Beckwith’s father, Laurens Butler Beckwith (1814-1869) confirming the name on the gravestone. The gravestone certainly looks original, but I am no expert. However, his name is given as Laurence in the obituary that ran in The Spirit of Jefferson following his death.

The only conclusion I can come to is that they probably used nicknames and signed things with their initials, as was customary, so their actual first name didn’t really come up very often.

The Beckwiths Come to Orangeburg

I am not fascinated with my family tree as simply a collection of genes, but in how history and war and geography shaped that tree. Orangeburg, South Carolina is a huge part of that. Orangeburg was where the Beckwith family and the Moorer family came together. I kind of knew that, but hadn’t dug out the details of it because I’d assumed the story was boring and full of people named Henry growing corn.

Burnt out on researching the Martin family, I set out to answer the questions of why and how the Beckwith family came to Orangeburg. I wasn’t expecting much, but what I began to unearth was, to me at least, kind of amazing in its dramatic expression of our country’s violent relationship with itself.

Laurence Ranson BeckwithLaurence Ranson Beckwith* was born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1842. Two short autumn months after L. R.’s eighteenth birthday, his home state would be the first to secede from the union. When he enlisted in the 6th Regiment South Carolina Cavalry in Columbia on June 12 of 1862, he brought with him a horse valued at $250 and equipment worth $60. Shortly after being furloughed with grave injuries two years later, he would carry with him the rank of of First Sergeant, the remains of a subordinate, and a bearing towards that man’s family burial ground in the rural countryside. America’s bloodiest war officially ended before Beckwith’s twenty-fourth birthday.

[UPDATE: I recently discovered that L. R. Beckwith served alongside his younger brother in the Infantry prior to his service with the Calvary]

The son of Laurens Butler Beckwith and Harriett Hunt, L. R. was the type to show up later in books about prominent Virginia families, even after being born himself in South Carolina. L. R.’s grandfather had two middle names and a plantation, the son himself of an English baronet. They married people who were related to people who signed the Constitution when they weren’t marrying their own first cousins.

According to Some Prominent Virginia Families (Volume 4, Page 24), L. R. was captain in the “Hampton Legion,” Confederate States Army. However, I’ve had some issues with this particular book, so anything that I get from it is pretty much for “good starting point” value only.

The more I looked into the captain claims, the funnier they smelled. Finally, my nose led me to Battle of Trevilian Station: The Civil War’s Greatest and Bloodiest All Cavalry Battle (Col. Swank, USAF Ret.), a book that had both the story and some documentation to go with it. 1st Sergeant Beckwith’s military career ended in Louisa County, Virginia in June of 1864. The paperwork for his furlough was done by July. Advertisements for an insurance agency that L. R. was involved in during the 1880s list his name with no title along with an associate who is designated as “Capt.” I’m pretty confident that Beckwith was indeed a first sergeant when he was taken to the C.S.A. General Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia with service-ending injuries at the age of twenty-one.

Laurence stayed in the C.S.A. hospital from June 13 to July 5.  The details of the medical board examination are at the National Archives and this is my official note to myself to go look at those next time I’m in DC.  Confederate Archives, Chapter 6, File 215, Page 362.

Col. Swank (RET) prints in his book a letter from Robert B. Wilkinson, Jr., of St. Matthews, that provides some detail to the story:

Francis Marion Moorer was the great-great-great uncle of Robert B. Wilkinson, Jr., and Captain John L. Wilkinson, USAF, of the Wade Hampton Camp #273 of Columbia, S.C. He was born Jan. 1, 1825, in Orangeburgh District, being named for the “Swamp Fox,” (Francis Marion, who was one of South Carolina’s heroes of the first war for independence) under whom his grandfather served in 1781 as a lieutenant. At the time of his enlistment on Dec. 21, 1861, “Frank” as he was known, was a moderately successful planter. His plantation ‘Magnolia Grove,’ was built in 1810 and inherited from his father. It was built adjacent to his great grandfather’s land (who was one of the first settlers of Orangeburg, S.C., in 1735, a Swiss.) He was enlisted at the age of 36, in the 20th Regiment, S.C. Volunteer Infantry, later Company B, under Capt. P.A. McMichael, serving on Sullivan’s Island and the defenses of Charleston, S.C. On Feb. 1, 1863, he requested transfer to the 5th S.C. Cavalry, Company A and served with them in Charleston until called to Virginia. While serving under General Wade Hampton’s command, he was mortally wounded in the fighting at Trevilian’s Station, Virginia, on June 11, 1864. He died the next morning. His young friend, Sgt. Lawrence Ransom Beckwith, marked his grave. (Beckwith was also wounded in that battle.) Beckwith who was to become Frank’s nephew after the war, returned to the grave with Frank’s brother, John Lewis Moorer and a two horse wagon. They recovered his remains in some sort of bag and solemnly rode the 460 miles back to their home. His final resting place was the old family burying ground on his great grandfather’s land. Frank’s widow and two daughters survived the barbaric horde of Gen. William T. Sherman eight months after his death only one daughter was to survive past 1880 on the impoverished plantation.

As Mr. Wilkinson alludes to, after his return to Orangeburg with Pvt. Moorer’s brother, L. R. stayed and married Ann Hess Moorer a short time later. L. R. went into business with the Moorer family, competed in the local agricultural fair against them, and was buried in the cemetery alongside the man he had once fought great and bloody battles with.

There’s so much more to the story, but in the interest of actually hitting Publish on this thing, I will save that for another time. L. R. died in 1884 at the age of 42 and the second half of life may be worth even more discussion than the first. Reconstruction was not an easy time for men like Beckwith.


*Laurence Ranson Beckwith’s first name can be read in his signature as either Lawrence or Laurence. I usually see it written by other people as Lawrence because that is the traditional spelling. His middle name is printed in some records as Ransom and others as Ranson.

I believe the first name is Laurence and middle name is Ranson because he named his son after himself and that son’s name is most definitely Laurence Ranson Beckwith (1898 – 1907). That is how the name is spelled on the son’s gravestone in the cemetery of Prospect Southern Methodist Church in Orangeburg, South Carolina. That gravestone would have been erected under the direction of the senior Laurence Ranson Beckwith himself and most certainly wouldn’t contain a misspelling.

It is also worth noting that, a generation before, the family lived in what later became Ranson, West Virginia. Either way, it seems that he went by L. R. Two Three of L. R.’s grandsons (including my grandfather) were named Laurens so the name thing is of a bit of interest to me.